04/09/2011 12:47PM

Ballabriggs takes rough running of Grand National

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Ballabriggs, racing near the front of a race that began with 40 horses and concluded, as usual, with far fewer, scored a 2 1/4-length victory Saturday in the $1,482,000 John Smith’s Grand National Chase at Aintree Racecourse in England.

Ten-year-old Ballabriggs was ridden to victory by Jason Maguire, who was injured in a fall and taken to a hospital just two days earlier. Maguire dismounted yards past the finish of the grueling 4 1/2- mile race, with Ballabriggs clearly exhausted - and said to be suffering from dehydration - after a brave performance. Oscar Time, in a perfect spot among a lead group of six over the last few jumps, had ranged up to the winner’s hindquarters a little more than an eighth of a mile from the finish, but Ballabriggs turned him back and drew clear for by far the most important victory of his career. Don’t Push It, the starting highweight and last year’s winner, finished third. State of Play rallied strongly in the final quarter-mile to get fourth.

Donald McCain trained Ballabriggs to victory, becoming the second generation in his family to have found Grand National success. McCain’s father, Donald “Ginger” McCain, trained one of the most famous of the Grand National winners, Red Rum, the only horse to have won the race three times, having done so in 1973, 1974, and 1976.

The race, contested around two circuits of the Grand National course and always challenging to its participants, was an especially rough one this year. Run over good going and in warm conditions, the Grand National lost 13 of its 40 starters during the first trip around course, during which 16 fences are jumped. In an unprecedented occurrence, the field was directed around, rather than over, two fences on the second circuit – including the famed Becher’s Brook – because stricken horses at the base of the jumps blocked the path of the remaining runners. The Racing Post reported two equine fatalities in the race, Dooneys Gate and Ornais.